When a ‘next generation’ farmer is coming back to work on the family farm, they often have some questions and concerns about their new role and how they’ll be received by others. One of the top concerns I hear from these farmers is: How can I become more of a leader on the farm, in Dad’s – or the current leader’s – eyes?
I believe this is the right question. They’re not asking to waltz back into the operation and immediately be handed all of the leadership roles and responsibilities. Instead, they’re looking to earn their way into a bigger leadership role and prove their commitment and effectiveness while doing so.
It’s also right because it’s proactive. It’s not sitting back and wondering, ‘When is Dad going to train me?’ or ‘I wish I could be getting more exposure working with the farm’s finances.’
I understand the worries of these farmers returning to the operation – they’ve heard the horror stories of the younger generation working as ‘hired hands’ well into their 40s or 50s because the older generation won’t release any of the decision-making.
Those scenarios do happen. But I also believe both generations play a role in helping to determine and demonstrate when the right amount of preparation to lead is occurring. Often, there’s a point when both generations feel comfortable enough with that progress for leadership handoffs to start happening.
Thinking about how you can become more of a leader means following through and doing whatever you can, right now, to enhance your own capabilities as a farmer and future business leader. It means becoming more educated in the wide variety of skills and behaviors you’re going to need to lead the farm – and practicing them now in your current role.
Below are a few questions you can ask as you prepare to demonstrate your readiness for leadership. If you’re the older generation on the farm, consider whether your successor leader is preparing themselves in these ways, and how you can encourage their development.
- What are the main skills I’ll need to have as a leader? Think beyond production to the business management side of farming. In what areas do you need more exposure and experience? Have you spent time learning about and working with farm finances? Think about skills like financial literacy, partner and supplier relationships, marketing, landlord negotiations.
- How will you learn the skills identified above? Think about how you can take part in ‘learning by doing.’ Ask if you can shadow the farm’s current leader, especially in the types of tasks and responsibilities that only they are responsible for. Consider who else you might enlist in your education. There may be particular areas you identify where you could benefit from specialized training from a third party.
- What are the attitudes and behaviors I’ll need as a future leader? Think about the specific attitudes and behaviors required to succeed in farming – and in leading a business. Seek out growth opportunities to learn how to demonstrate sound, logical judgment and perseverance as a leader. Don’t worry if you struggle a bit at first or feel as if you’re ‘in over your head.’ You’ll learn a lot – especially from your mistakes – and build your confidence as a leader in the process.
- How do I know when I’m truly prepared to lead the operation? One good way to get an idea of this is if the older generation is willing to take some time away from the operation and let you experience leading the farm on your own. At first, it’s best to do this during a less busy season in the operation. This experience can help increase confidence – for both of you – that you’ll be ready for the real deal.
Read the current issue of the Smart Series publication, bringing business ideas for today’s farm leader. This issue includes perspectives on what to do when a landlord asks for higher rent, how to find the right new employee, a farm business checklist for the spring season, and more. Get your free online issue here.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.